El Niño

In Spanish, the word Nino means child. I remember how much it bothered me to be called Nino. I was young at the time and if I remember correctly, I was eleven or twelve. Many people still called me Nino and I was determined to show them that I was no longer a Nino but a muchacho or hoven, which means young man. Nino just sounded too babyish and I did not want to be called that anymore.

Mom was a single parent, had to work, and could not take care of me during summer vacations. I guess she did not want me staying alone, in the house all summer, so she would put me on a bus and send me to stay with my grandparents, for the summer. I could go on the bus by myself because I was a muchacho not a Nino. I felt so grown-up the first time I went to Harlingen, Texas by my self. My grandparents lived several miles from Harlingen, a place we called the colonia, which means the neighborhood. The colonia did not have paved roads and if it rained, the mud made it very difficult to for the cars and trucks to go in and out. One of my grandparent's neighbors had a large family and they used to go as a family to work in the cotton fields, to pick cotton. In the 1960s most of the cotton was still picked by hand. I wanted to show everyone that I was not a Nino and that I could work hard to earn money, so I asked my grandparents neighbors, if I could join them. My grandparents gave me permission so every day I would get up at 5:00 in the morning and go with the family. We would walk down the road about half a mile and wait for a large truck that would pick us up. The truck was very high, it had wooded panels around it, and it could carry several families with out a problem.

I remember one day we were picked up just like any other days, but it was a day that I would remember all my life. It was a long time ago, but some times, it feels like it was yesterday. We arrived at a large cotton field and jumped off the truck. Two other trucks had arrived with more people and we were soon in the field picking cotton. We had been working that field for several days and we were getting to the end. It was a hot day; well actually, every day was hot. As I worked, I could hear people making conversation, others were whistling, and others sang songs to make the time go by faster. When the bag was full and it was hard to drag. I would take it to the end of the field where the contractor would weight it and empty the bag into a large cotton trailer. By my name, the contactor would write the weight of cotton. At the end of the week, he would add it up and pay me according to the pounds that were picked. I had just finished weighing my bag and was retuning to the field with my empty bag ready to continue the work when I heard screams coming from all over the field. Men, women, and children were screaming. They shouted, "La migra! La migra! La migra!" Mexicans called the Immigration officers "La migra". I saw fear and panic, in the eyes, of the adults as they ran past me. I was eleven years old and if the adults were frighten then I surely had to be also. People were running in all directions and I started to run also. Soon I realized what every one was running from. There were men on horseback coming from the opposite end of the cotton field. We were all caught in the open, the men on horseback herded us like cattle, and in a matter of a few minutes were all gathered at the end of the field. I was afraid and did not know what was going to happen. A large bus can up the dusty dirt road and stopped next to where we were. The immigration officers made us stand in a line so we could board the bus, but before boarding, we had to empty our pockets and were asked all kinds of questions. I could not see my neighbors and I felt so alone and helpless. I was standing closer to the back of the line and in front of me was a big man. His face and his eyes frightened me; he looked so scared. I asked him what was going to happen to us and he said that he was going to be deported to Mexico because he did not have any documents. I told him that I did not want to be deported to Mexico and that I had done nothing wrong. He told me that I would be all right because I had a green card and that I would not be taken away. I felt a relief and then just as quick I felt a terrible panic thought out my entire body. My green card was in my lunch box under a tree at the opposite end of the cotton field. I had no way of proving to La migra that I had a green card. My grandmother had advised me to always carry the green card, but I had left it in my lunchbox. I could hear children crying and could see their mothers trying to comfort them. The officers on horseback kept a close eye on everyone. I should have tried to talk to the immigration officers and explain my situation, but I did not. I looked up and saw the dark figure of the officer on horseback against the bright summer sky. I could not make out his face because the sun was so bright. I was standing close to the end of the line. The officer that was closest to me dismounted from the horse and at that moment, I made the decision to make a run for it. I figured that if I could make it to my lunchbox everything would be all right. I could show them my green card and I would not be deported to Mexico. When the immigration officer that was closest to me turned away to talk to another officer, I bolted out of the line and ran. I heart was pounding against my chest and I ran as fast as my scared legs could carry me. I heard people yelling and they were saying, "Correle, Correle, no te dejes, ponle por la puerta "; which meant "run run, don't let them get you, give it all you got". I looked up and the tree was so far away, but I knew that I had to reach it. The cotton plants slapped against my chest and legs as I ran through them. It felt like I was being whipped. Many thoughts raced through my mind. I thought of my grandparents, my sister, and of my mother that was in San Antonio and that, she would never see me again if I did not make it to my lunchbox. I heard thunder behind be. The ground shock and I realized that it was the pounding of the horse's huffs against the ground. La migra was getting closer and I still had a ways to go. I gathered as much strength as I could, to run faster, but the thunder behind me was getting closer and closer. I then felt the hot humid blast, from the horse's nostrils, behind my neck.

Several days later, I remember that I struggled, in pain, to open my eyes. My face was swollen and one of my eyes was swollen shut. I focused my eye and saw my grandmother's teary-eyed face and she looked so sad. I could not move and it hurt to breath. My grandmother reached out her hand and told me to open my mouth. I found it difficult to open my lips. She pushed a pill between my lips and gave me some water. My grandparent's neighbors came over to see how I was doing. The man neighbor thought that he had returned my lifeless body back to my grandparents, but I had survived the tramping of the horse. Some contactors would work a crew of people for a week or more and then call the immigration officers to picked them up, to avoid pay the hired help. I never was paid for my work, but I was alive and I would see my mother again. I cannot remember how long it took for me to recuperate but summer had come to and end and I had to return to San Antonio to begin another school year. I was never called Nino again.